Also the favorite food of elk
Thursday August 18th 2022, 9:01 pm
Filed under: Knit,To dye for

I guess you can make rayon out of just about any cellulose-based fiber, and I’ve seen a few oddball yarns from time to time. Sugarcane viscose? As Richard put it, well that one makes sense, it would be like bamboo, they’re both tall woody stalks.

Stinging nettle? I’ve heard its praises sung but I remember stinging nettle at my grandparents’ mountain cabin in Utah when I was a kid–I learned the hard way to stay on the path but that it didn’t have the manners not to lean over it. You had to be careful. It hurts like mosquitos itch.

Crustacean shell yarn, touted for health effects: that one didn’t seem to last on the market very long. Imagine if your recipient had a shellfish allergy you didn’t know about. It was the only yarn I’ve ever heard of with a warning label.

Rose yarn. Okay, put away the pruning shears and that’s another stiff long-limbed woody plant, okay.

Today Etsy sent me one of those “New Items!” notifications re a vendor I’d bought from pre-pandemic. Yeah, I clicked.

It really was. 100% dandelion yarn. Shiny, white, described as soft.


Laceweight, too, so you’d be putting a lot of time into figuring out whether it was worth putting any time into and whether it would hold up, or else you’d have to hold a bunch of strands together; well, hey, the vendor wouldn’t mind if you bought extra cones. Oh and look they have peppermint yarn, too. Does it give your hands fresh breath?

I’m picturing a Monty Python Killer Rabbits sketch with bunnies leaping for your shawl for snacks and then polishing it off with a mint.

Color my world
Monday November 30th 2020, 11:12 pm
Filed under: To dye for

Studying butterfly wings to figure out how to transfer color structurally rather than with dyes is fascinating–and needed. There have been reports of a river running blue in India from all the synthetic denim processed for clothing factories.

And I quote: “Not only are we removing the need for pigments and dyes, we’re taking out the need for all of the stuff around it to stabilize it.”

But then what would that do to the whole hand-dyed yarn industry? The new company says their colors self-assemble. How do you keep them from mixing across sections of a hank? Can you even apply it to wool? I have so many questions.

Soak dye acid heat
Thursday February 21st 2019, 10:53 pm
Filed under: To dye for

(The title.)

So there was this poor, unloved long-sleeved silk/cashmere turtleneck in good condition on, marked down to garage sale ($3, I think?) because of its color.

Some people like bright lime mixed with mustard yellow just fine, but apparently not enough to pay even that much, even in that fabric. To me it looked like a bad cold.

Then they threw free shipping at me. Yeah, I ordered the darn thing. It was down to its last-chance days and you couldn’t just let it be tossed; someone had to love it.

Two weeks after it came now I do.

One dye pot, a bit of turquoise (it came out a bit greener and brighter than the camera could show, and ever so slightly pointillistically heathered) and not only is it over its cold but I am ecstatic. The stitching must have been done in nylon: it all matches, the sewing and the fabric, as if it had come that way originally. The simmering softened it markedly and got rid of any residual stiffening effects from previous dry cleanings. (Handwash cashmeres in lukewarm water gently to preserve the softness of that fiber. Dry cleaning makes it harsh.) Any darker areas are from how the washer spun it out and the fact that it isn’t all the way dry yet (spin cycle only with no water spray), but I couldn’t wait to show you.

It’s glorious!

This does not help me avoid buying cheap color-uglied natural fibers the next time. At all.

But that tiny splurge was well spent.  I’m going to be wearing this till I wear it out.

Getting a little crow-ded
Friday August 18th 2017, 10:16 pm
Filed under: Knit,To dye for,Wildlife

The birdnetting somehow gets moved a bit day after day–no squirrel could have done that from there (I don’t think) –and the figs have still been disappearing. And I was getting screamed at by a crow whenever I went near that tree. Although, funny how when I gave “the look” in its general direction, wherever it was, it stopped.

Research has shown that they are highly attuned to human faces.

It could see me. I couldn’t see it. But even I can hear a crow.

Hey, nice of it to remind me. (Yup, I did go back and buy a fake dead one last year but I never used it.)

After repeats of this all week long, I finally remembered at night and not in the morning when it was too late that I needed to put that bird out there.

I carried it in the shopping bag it’s been in to hide it from any glimpse through the windows, hoping it would work for the Indian Free peach and fig both even though they’re not that close. I slid it out with me between it and the tree across the fence that is where I think I’d been yelled at from, trying to block any night-vision view (it wasn’t as dark as I would have liked) and then I sprinted the heck around the corner and out of there.

So yes, I put it there myself fer cryin’ out loud, and yet it still startled me this evening when I went to water the tomatoes. Whoa! Well, good, then, so I pretended to be startled again and shied away from it every time I looked in its direction. I can play the game.

Meantime. I bought a large cone of merino/silk 50/50, steeply discounted to get rid of the last of it, in a color blend I would call bleached-out camouflage. I’d worked with that yarn before in navy and knew how nice it was. (Hey, Morgan, that’s your doubled hat.) This was a heavier and darker version of the one I played with recently and there’s a whole lot more of it.

It came yesterday and today I wound off just enough yards to make a nice cowl, tied the hank and threw it in the dyepot to see what I could talk this stuff into being.

I don’t know if I can get the other 900 grams all into one dyepot and have it come out evenly. Quite unlikely. No afghan out of this, then, no matter how practical home decor-wise, I would go nuts having to look at the blah in my hands for a month.

Such a shame. I’ll just have to splash and play and make lots of happy colors out of it. We’re talking a dozen merino/silk hats or cowls, easily.

Maybe Sapphire, next.

Mathias saves the day
Tuesday August 15th 2017, 10:58 pm
Filed under: Family,Friends,Knitting a Gift,Life,Lupus,To dye for

The color of the sky, she said. That was her favorite.

I looked over the blues in my stash yesterday, and then again today, willing it to be there. I have some really nice yarns that were close but they just weren’t quite…they were my types of blues, not hers.

I could wind white yarn and haul around dye baths and wait for things to dry and hope I guessed right on amounts or I could go for a little more instant gratification. Besides, I hadn’t seen Kathryn in months and I missed her.

Cottage Yarns in South San Francisco was a hike, but: “Today you can do it–do it today,” I tell myself all the time and I wanted to get started and I wanted to see what Malabrigo had to offer these days (turns out she has a new shipment coming in soon, too) and if anyone in the area had the inventory it would be her. There. Talked myself into it. So off I went.

I wanted superwash for a young mom; she helped me find the most perfect colors of Malabrigo Mechita and I had myself envisioning an entire cowl finished by bedtime.

Yeah as if. But I got to meet her daughter! Too cool that hers is also named Sam–and that it was her birthday.

Came home to a robo-call to pick up my prescription before they returned it to stock. Fudge. That had definitely not been in the plan. Wound a ball of Mechita and headed back out into the early rush hour.

Hit the top of my head, hard, on the car at the pharmacy. Klutz. Had a quiet little freakout to myself over head injuries but seemed to be okay.

Still, it took me a couple of hours to pull myself and my sore head together and actually finally sit down and start knitting, and oh did it ever help. That sweet anticipation as beautifully dyed wool wrapped around wood, again and again and again as I pictured my friend’s face…

My phone buzzed.

Our Sam and her family are in Texas, visiting Mathias’s Great Grandpa. (Where our Alaskan born, on being taken outside into 100 degree heat, was initially stunned: what IS this?! Make it stop!)

After all the news of these past few days–weeks–months–it all comes back to that poster in my obstetrician’s office years ago: “A baby is God’s opinion that the world should go on.”

Baby giggles, or even just pictures of baby giggles. They make the world whole again.


Happy face yarn
Saturday June 17th 2017, 11:01 pm
Filed under: Food,Knit,To dye for

Showing off Andy’s Bing and Rainier cherries, before the sugar/flour/cinnamon/almond and top crust.

Meantime, this was some 50/50 merino/silk from Colourmart, and I knew from knitting my brother a hat out of it in double strands of navy that it was warm, soft, and well spun, I knew my hands loved the stuff, but all they had left was this faded dusty taupe/sage mix that did not do a thing for me. Cannot beat that closeout price, though– (150 g/$12 ppd) –all it needed was a little work.

Hank, scour the mill oils out in hot soapy water, overdye, rinse, then wind it up once it’s dry. Jacquard Acid Dye in (not a whole lot of) Bright Blue with just a touch of vinegar in the pot that helped the yarn take up the dye during the simmering.

It’s still got just a bit of earthy tone in some lighting from its ancestral color but I like it much better now.

Kids don’t try this at home
Monday December 05th 2016, 11:48 pm
Filed under: Life,LYS,To dye for

Since for the last nearly three weeks the idea of carting a full dyepot around was out of the question, that of course was what I most wanted to do.

So today I just decided I was going to. And then since there was still dye left in that pot, I did it again. And (add the last of that purple in that bottle, I need to remember to order more–I miss Purlescence!) again. I figured that weight-wise, the trick was to spoon the thing over into a second, empty dyepot and carry it and then later the full dyepot separately across the house to break the load down into smaller tasks, and I let the water go pretty low by the end. (One does *not* pour any amount of dye down the kitchen sink. One scrubs the purple porcelain.)

Watching a faded-gray-blue $5 closeout silk T and a mousy earthy-mauve (not my color) $6 eBay v-neck cashmere sweater turn out matching shades of purple to wear together was a lot more magic than I expected to get. Oooh, that’s what I’d always wanted that sweater to be! It was really cool.

But one of the things I’m in the habit of doing when I’m overdyeing sweaters is to tuck the wooden dye spoon under the object and lift it mostly out of the pot right at the beginning and let it hang a moment midair to try to make sure there are no wrinkle lines in how the dye latches on. Stir, lift again.

This did not go so well using, out of habit, my right hand. Which did not hold up its end of the bargains.

Somehow, as I raced for the bathroom for a towel and the mirror, sheerly by the grace of God is the only way I can describe it, only one big droplet of purple landed on my head and it hit exactly in the part line on my scalp.

Not (other than that) in my hair.

This was protein-fibers dye and it was at a low boil, the temp at which it affixes to the material at hand. Or head. Which, however, was not boiling, so maybe a few shampoos should do the job. I got some on my hands too and it’s all gone now.

As far as I can tell it’s off and that is that.

I think, though, that I’d probably better mention it to the dermatologist when she does my annual post-skin-cancer check next week. Just in case she sees that I’m in a purple state.

Two done, one to go
Friday April 08th 2016, 8:56 pm
Filed under: Knit,To dye for

I think a hand wound ball of yarn can be a work of art in itself. Hopefully one that gets unravelled quickly and happily.

Red-y or not here it comes
Thursday April 07th 2016, 10:32 pm
Filed under: Family,To dye for

From Colourmart‘s recent big mill-ends-of-the-mill-ends sale.

The cone, a vivid red on the orangey side, became this (first photo) yesterday and then this (second and third photos) today.

My problem was in not owning a dyepot big enough, if one exists, to allow 650 g of dk cashmere to float around in freely to let all the dye sift equally through everything; those three hanks I’d wound up barely all fit in there with the water at half full. And it was a big pot. (Side note: surely there are people who can hold up an increasingly heavy niddy noddy long enough to wind two thousand-plus yards onto it to make a single hank out of that much yarn; I am not one of them. I had to take breaks.)

I looked at my skeins, snapped a photo, and got my daughter’s opinion. There was a lot of difference between the skeins and within the skeins, mocking my efforts to immerse them together. “Artistic,” I told her.

Honestly, still pretty bright.

No problem. Easier to add than subtract. I repeated the process today, putting in first that which had taken up the least.

Not perfect but a lot better and a lot more even.


Note that I bought that second cone in case it turned out not quite what she was hoping for.

My daughter is knitting. And I had a chance to give her cashmere. All it needed was some prep work.

Sunday January 03rd 2016, 12:20 am
Filed under: Family,To dye for

There was this sweater. This screaming-hot-pink-fuschia sweater, 70/30 silk/cotton, and though it would have been just the right color on someone, that someone wasn’t me. 

Enough other people thought the same thing that the price dropped to something like $15 and I thought, I know how warm and comfortable and useful those are and I do have a dyepot….

And then it sat there for a year, nagging me. Every now and then I would pull the little UFO out and hold it up to my face in the mirror, look a moment, think, you wish!, and put it back. And feel guilty.

My daughter Sam is knitting these days, and Colourmart had a big sale on some vivid red dk weight cashmere that was the mill ends of the mill ends. I checked with her and then bought her a monster cone for Christmas on the grounds that if she didn’t like the color when she got here I would overdye it for her.

You see where this is going?

Now, I can’t do a thing about that yarn right now because of the current lack of a functional niddy noddy. (Where DID that piece go?) But I could play with the concept, and I’d be better off if I did–I have black dye in my stash but I use it very very very seldom and am less familiar with how it plays with others than I’d like to be when dealing with precious cashmere.

That sweater had never been worn, just to make sure it would be totally clean when I got to it. I handwashed it to get any mill residue off and to get it good and soaked (silk resists water at first) and then, wooden spoon in hand, I put/pushed it into the ready, simmering darkened dye bath as all-at-once as I could get it to go, stirring immediately to open it up to avoid streaks.

And it came out really evenly.

Or not.

This is really weird.

The camera flashed it back to closer to its original color, which is funny, and it shows as darker where it’s wetter after being spun out, but in real life it is one solid reddish rose slashed by darker lines in a very regular pattern.

How on earth did they spin their yarn? Because this wasn’t my doing, this was the manufacturer’s: my solid crewneck is now striped. How did that happen!? Okay, the cotton wasn’t going to take up the acid dye, just the silk and I knew that going in, but one would expect the two fibers to have been combed together, not partly combed but mostly alternated. Huh. Well, none of it is the original color now so some silk did get dispersed throughout. But it’s the strangest thing.

What’s also strange is that it is blissfully soft now in a way it wasn’t before. I have an old book somewhere on the properties of silk and I need to go find it.

Then, just because I was curious, I threw some more black dye in the pot, since the first seemed to have all been taken up, and threw in a red sweater to tone it down a few shades. 60/40 silk/cotton on that one. From the same company, a few years older. Came out a more subdued red and as evenly and perfectly even as if it had been sold that way, exactly what I’d hoped for.

But that first one. So strange. I will definitely wear it, even though I’m not a big stripes person. But I’d love to know why it came out like that.

Byssus way
Wednesday September 02nd 2015, 10:13 pm
Filed under: History,To dye for,Wildlife

The bubble wrap has disappeared, whether upward or downward in those trees I do not know. Squirrelwork!

Silly stuff aside, I want to learn how she does this. I want to understand the chemistry of all of it. If you haven’t seen it yet, there’s a BBC article here about an Italian woman who is the last person keeping alive a tradition going back to, in her family’s tradition, the days of the Biblical King Herod’s great-granddaughter: she harvests byssus, the dried saliva of a clam, and adds a mix of spices that not only dye the clam silk but make it luminous.

The clam is a protected species but so is she–the Italian coastguard overseas her dives.

She is the Antonio Stradivari of fiber artistry. No one else can quite yet create what she does. She sells nothing and gives away everything according to the needs of those around her.

The reporter did not know enough to ask her how she changed the fibers into what she does, whether she works it still wet straight out of the sea or dried like her sample, whether she pulls it wide like a cocoon of terrestrial silk–is it all one long thread?–and spins it from there, or just how her yarn comes to be from its raw material. How is it done. I want to pull up a chair and learn (I’ll take my brother Bryan, he speaks Italian).

And I can only hope all the attention doesn’t cause poaching of her beloved clams.

You teal’em
Thursday February 05th 2015, 11:30 pm
Filed under: To dye for

The colors in this nighttime photo are washed out: the greens are quite a bit greener and the light blue is more teal, but at least you can get an idea of how different they are from each other.

So. I had this silk turtleneck. A warm, very soft, heavyweight spunsilk turtleneck bought on clearance from Wintersilks at something like twelve bucks and free shipping in a color on the screen that I could only hope.

Um. No. And didn’t it match any of the things I’d wanted it to go with.

Today I saw again what color it could be, the one that had justified the purchase, and given the fact that I would be putting it on in a second if it were that I realized I was never going to wear it if I didn’t do something. I fired up my dyepot. Soapy water, rinse, throw it in, stir and turn over nonstop for a half hour as it bubbles away.

That was the one in the middle here. It now perfectly matches my favorite skirt. Score! Why stop now. When it came out, I threw in a silk sweater (left) and it too came out far better than what it had been. And then an older silk shirt that I’d previously dyed in the same Jacquard teal, and it had been beautiful, but then I had treated it for a stain one day and the Shout took out some of my dye–well, then, it was indeed a reversible one, wasn’t it. I should have known better.

So it sat in a drawer for a year and a half with me unwilling to toss what had been a favorite and not really believing it could be fixed.

But sometimes reversible dyes, if you’re really really lucky, can lift somewhat off the fabric in boiling water and resettle a bit as you stir with new dye. And as far as I can tell right now while it’s not quite all the way dry yet, I was really really lucky. I have my shirt back.

One of the thing about overdyeing natural-fiber clothes away from ugly or wrong colors is that you never know what kind of thread they used to sew the garment up with. On the turtleneck, it looks to have been a poly or poly/cotton blend so there are now lines of contrast around the hems and neck. This is why I tend not to overdye too far away from what the thing was.

But on that sweater. The 78/22 silk/nylon sweater. Nylon takes up wool dyes while polyester does not and all the thread took up the dye in a complete match, so it must have been nylon.

And what that means is that I can overdye it again in, oh I dunno, yale blue or anything else on the blue or green scale and the stitching will do exactly what I say again. I might, but morning and full dryness will show me exactly what I’ve got and I do like it so far.

A side note: for dyeing, only use a pot, stainless being preferable by far, that you will never ever use for cooking.

At the okay, coral
Friday July 11th 2014, 11:11 pm
Filed under: To dye for

So I had this silk dress. Classic style. Got it online at a huge sale several years ago for all of I think ten bucks and hoped it wouldn’t be quite how it turned out that yes, it was. I almost liked the color enough. (The first photo totally nails it on my monitor.) It would have looked great on me when the chemo drug for Crohn’s was messing with my skin tone, but I’ve been off that med five years now.

And I just didn’t quite.

And now today, at last, I do.

I got my biggest dye pot out this afternoon and had the Jacquard simmering and stirring away a few minutes before I added the dress, no lumps of vermillion allowed.

And then I did something I would never do with, say, a merino sweater: I went at it with two for-dyeing-only wooden spoons close to nonstop the entire half hour it was on the stove, pushing, pulling, dunking, swirling, poking, stirring, making sure neither dress nor dye stood still at all. I tried lifting it out a few times to let any lines resettle (forget it, I’m not tall enough) and then swished around hard some more.

It came out with no streaks, no spots, no unevenness (that’s a camera artifact along the right)–it all took completely evenly. I am amazed at how thoroughly I lucked out. It’s not as pink as this photo says and the silk most definitely needs a good steam ironing to live up to itself again–but that’s all it needs.

Now, I know full well there are going to be some looking at the before and afters and thinking man, she sure got those backwards. But light orange with a hint of taupe vs a calm coral, for me it just totally validated that purchase at long last.

I’d always known I could change it if I didn’t love it. I just had to want to enough. Enough to risk making mistakes.

And even then, Jacquard is a reversible dye–you can boil most of it back out if it’s bad enough to want to.

Totally perfect. And even the not-silk stitching still looks good on it.


Going to great lengths for him
Thursday January 31st 2013, 12:06 am
Filed under: Family,Knitting a Gift,To dye for

It’s become a joke by now.

Is it done yet?

I model it for him, past my knees, towards my ankles.

He grins, tries it on, it’s shorter than fingertip-to-fingertip, and looks at me not quite laughing–but he hasn’t sung Short People at me. Yet.

This is the man who never in his life had had the luxury of a sweater with sleeves long enough to fold back the cuffs, so I’d made him one with an 86″ wingspan. Fits him perfectly.

I knit some more. The scarf is at 82″ now, surely…? But there is more of this fingering weight baby alpaca, I can keep going. It has fond memories: anyone else out there remember Russ of Robin and Russ Handweaving? He bought a truckload of this stuff back when nobody had ever heard of baby alpaca yarns. Sold it in natural colors at a buck a ball, 40 grams each, not on cones, not his usual stuff but oh so very soft. Mine started out a soft fawn.

I dyed several pounds of it ten years ago, the skeins presoaked for an attempt at color evenness and shoved in that suddenly small-looking pot as best I could. I didn’t take the time to hank and then rewind all those skeins for the dye process; I had just gotten out of the hospital a few weeks before. I lifted that pot.  It felt heroic enough. An afghan for the doctor who’d saved my life–and it had cashmere I dyed to match knitted into it, too, and my mother-in-law played a part in that, and I so wish I could find the rest of that yarn in time for this project because of that connection to her.

But. I have the baby alpaca. The leftovers seem to be the skeins that were the most felted and tangled and the least matching and oh well.

But I am knitting three strands crammed together on size 9s for softness and warmth and the shades can waver  between themselves all they want. One browner, one lighter, one redder, repeat at the 35″ mark.

My husband has never had a scarf long enough that it doesn’t look like a tall man trying to fit into normal people’s sizes. Partly too because we live where you don’t need one. This, though, is going to be long enough. I had to ice my hands several times today (the seed stitch part of that pattern is a bear to work) but I’m. Almost. There.

Spin knit dye. Yeah, that’s backwards.
Wednesday February 22nd 2012, 10:34 pm
Filed under: Knitting a Gift,Spinning,To dye for

Hey, Don, you got your new computer working yet?

And over here…  Once upon a time there was some yarn at Colourmart.  Really nice yarn, in a very thin laceweight, finer than I wanted to work with but very nice yarn of very nice content and very cheap. (Their prices include shipping, too.)

They had a free twisting service to hold multiple strands together. I did not look around their site to notice that if you want the strands actually plied the way a mill would do, you have to pay an extra $5–which is super reasonable, actually.

So I bought 450 g of the stuff and asked them to twist it by threes for me.

Being me, when it came, I immediately hanked it off that cone into a big loop  and scoured it in hot water to get the mill oils out that their stuff tends to come with; I don’t like to spend hours upon hours knitting with something that’s only going to feel supersoft for someone else later–I’m paying for me to be able to enjoy it, too. The mill oils feel like dried hair mousse, so, out!

Hitchcock music time: over a thousand yards of strands only barely held together, all felting randomly with other parts of the skein in that sink. I hung it to dry and saw it and it hit me. All. That. Yarn. The only thing that saved it was the fact that there were cashmere and silk in there as well as that felting merino.

Help Cecil Help!

I’m a-comin’, Beanie Boy! I spent a long time gently pulling it back apart. I didn’t dare risk dyeing it then for fear of having to do that again.

At each stage of this I threw it in the back of the closet till what the stuff was made of refused to be ignored.

So on the next time looking it over, I was afraid that that bit of twisting they did would put torque into whatever I knit. There were a few places where it had left one strand loopy and uneven with the other two, with me trying to ease the ease back in.

There was only one way out I could see.

I ran it through my spinning wheel. Clockwise. Two bobbins’ worth, let’s try this much out first before I do more. I plied those two on each other counterclockwise, treadle, treadle, treadle.

Now I had a good, balanced yarn–and it was a worsted-weight-ish 6-ply. Um, who wants a white hat? (I know, I know, all the good guys do.)

And so that’s exactly what I knit, finishing it today without even using all the one doubled bobbin’s worth. The 6-ply was splitty as all get-out and a nuisance to knit, but after I pulled that hat out of my dyepot in the afternoon, the felting action helping me out this time, it was a deep deep indigo, the silk just slightly lighter and dancing in the background to its own happy tune.  When it is dry it will do so even more.

Wow.  Gorgeous.  And so, so soft! It was worth every minute and every angst and every stitch and every stir of that pot. This is what it aspired to be all along. I almost put it on for a moment in celebration, still wet–and had a sudden vision of being an old blue-haired grandma before my time. (No, it’s not crocking dye. Even so.) Let’s not.

Only 136 more grams to spin (maybe) , 196 to knit. Be still my heart.